Several Barberton drivers cried when they learned how much their fees would be slashed under the Ohio driver's license amnesty program.

Some had their reinstatement fees reduced from $8,000 to $800.

“It’s life-changing because it really gives them hope,” Barberton Municipal Judge Todd McKenney said. “They can get their licenses back.”

Now, more drivers will have the chance to take advantage of the amnesty program. The state legislature recently extended the program, set to expire July 31, through the end of the year.

The extension is welcome news for several judges in the Akron area who have been doing all they can in the last six months to spread the word about the opportunity. The program allows low-income residents to have their debt to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles reduced or erased, removing one of the main obstacles for people to get their driving privileges restored.

“There’s still such a large group of people who have no idea how this could help them,” McKenney said. “It gives us time to keep talking to them.”

So far, 72,768 people across the state have applied for amnesty, said Lindsey Bohrer, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

State officials estimate as many as 410,000 may be eligible.

The amnesty program has a few exclusions, including not applying to people with commercial driver's license suspensions.

Those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits can receive a complete waiver of their BMV fees, while others can get a reduction.

The amnesty pertains to BMV fees and not court costs, which also must be paid before driving privileges are restored.

The Ohio legislature included the program extension in the two-year state budget that was just approved. Because the budget won’t become effective until mid-October, the program will have a brief gap from July 31 until the budget effective date. Amnesty applications will be accepted through Dec. 31, state officials said.

Many courts across the state have taken steps to inform people with suspended licenses about the amnesty program.

In Barberton, the court mailed letters to 5,000 people in mid-June, telling them about the program and inviting them to a clinic Saturday.

Stow Municipal Court also recently offered a clinic and court officials have been providing information to people with traffic violations who could benefit it. Stow Magistrate John Clark said he pulled two men out of traffic court this week who combined could save $9,600 under the program.

The program has drawn a larger crowd than usual to the monthly Volunteers Assisting Licensed Individual Drivers (VALID) clinics, an effort started two years ago to help Summit County residents get their licenses back. McKenney said about 100 people attended the latest clinic last week, about twice the number who normally attend summertime clinics.

VALID also recently took its show on the road, hosting clinics in Perry and Licking counties.

State legislators are considering making the amnesty program permanent. However, drivers would only be eligible for amnesty once.

“It’s not going to be a revolving-door program,” said Ohio Rep. Dave Greenspan, R-Westlake, the bill’s sponsor.

Greenspan plans to take a look at the data from the first six months of the program to see if other changes are needed, such as potentially reducing the offenses that trigger license suspensions.

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.